A poor man of about 60 approached the desk last week. He needed to apply for food stamps, and the staff at Circulation had told him to ask for me. I will fill out the application for people if we are not busy, and I supposed that this had become known to them.
But we were busy. Calls and walk-ups were rolling in, the desk was humming. ML and I were it, no backup. I couldn't abandon her for 20 or 30 minutes to do his application.
Could he go to the DCF Service Center on Sharer Road for help? No, he didn't have the bus fare, and he had walked a long way to the library. I thought for a minute. How could I help him? Could he type, I asked? He nodded yes! Just maybe, I thought, we can work with that.
"Do you see all these people?", I said, indicating with a back-sweep of my arm the Internet users, who really were 'all sorts and conditions' that morning. "They aren't geniuses. They're ordinary people like you and me. You can do it too. It's not that hard. Just have faith in yourself. Let me get you started."
I got him a PC and took him to the application at ACCESS Florida. How to hold the mouse, what the buttons and wheel do. How to spot a link, and how the pointer makes a pointing hand to click on it. Read everything carefully, and it will tell you what to do. Note the "go back" and "continue" buttons at the bottom of each page. Maybe 1-2 minutes of instruction. I would be at the desk if he needed help. And I turned him loose.
15 minutes later, he came to find me while I was showing someone databases. I hadn't explained radio buttons and check boxes. The mouse pointer doesn't make a hand for those, I realized. 30 seconds to train him with those.
20 minutes after that, I came up for air, and walked over to check on him. How was he doing? A young man was talking him through some things, but he was doing it. He dismissed me, "We're good."
Maybe 10 minutes after that, he waved to me as he headed for the stairs, "Thank you." I heard dignity in that thank-you. It was the thank-you of a man who had taken care of his own business. And it encouraged me.
I've tried this before and failed. The crucial difference here was that he could read, and he wasn't afraid of a keyboard.